That Jose Fernandez can pitch with the best in the game is beyond doubt. That he can hit pretty well for a pitcher is no secret either — particularly to the Braves. But who knew he had such presence of mind in the field?
On Wednesday night against the Braves in Miami, with the game still scoreless, Fernandez got into a bit of a jam in the third inning by walking Tyler Pastornicky and allowing a Jason Heyward double. When Ramiro Pena hit a tapper halfway down the third base line and got a great jump out of the box, it appeared as though the Braves would put across the game's first run, but instead of throwing to first base, Fernandez faked, fooling Pastornicky into breaking for home. While Pastornicky eluded the pitcher's initial attempt at a tag, Fernandez quickly flipped the ball to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia in time to nab him. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez considered trying to challenge the call but ultimately did not.
It was just the latest example of Fernandez keeping the Atlanta lineup at bay. Last Tuesday, he struck out 14 Braves while shutting out Atlanta for eight innings, allowing just three hits. In his previous turn against them — his final start of the year last September 11 — he held them to one run across seven innings, matching that with his first major league homer, after which he jawed with catcher Brian McCann, who felt he admired the shot for too long (insert eye-roll here). Prior to that, on August 30 he held them to two runs in six innings while striking out eight. Including the eight zeroes he wound up stringing together on Tuesday night, his career ERA against the Braves is now 0.93 across 29 innings.
Tuesday's matchup paired Fernandez against Alex Wood , who last week matched Fernandez's 14 whiffs with 11 of his own but despite eight innings of one-run, four-hit work wound up on the short end of a 1-0 loss. This time around, Wood wasn't nearly as sharp; in the bottom of the third after Fernandez's brilliant defensive play, the Marlins rallied for three two-out runs via a Christian Yelich triple, and Ed Lucas single, and finally a Giancarlo Stanton home run, his eighth of the year.
Wood stuck around for five innings but was touched up for 10 hits and seven runs, the first time this year he ha allowed more than two in a start. The last two of those runs he allowed came via inherited runners with Fernadez — who else? — singling off reliever Anthony Varvaro to score Jeff Baker to close the book on his opposite number. The Marlins tacked on two more to run the score to 9-0, so manager Mike Redmond gave Fernandez the hook after eight innings and 98 pitches; he allowed just two hits while striking out eight, including the side in his final frame.
Fernandez's scoreless performance dropped his season ERA to a microscopic 1.59. More impressively, through 34 career starts and 212 1/3 innings — the equivalent of a full season of work — he has 242 strikeouts (10.3 per nine) and a 2.08 ERA. If he keeps this up, he's going to win a Cy Young someday soon.